A couple of weeks ago a family moved into the townhouses across the playground with kids aged 6,7,8. As crazy as I find that age gap (!), I find it to be such a blessing for my kids. You really only need one friend, as a kid, to make a certain time special. Calvin got two brothers (the 7 & 8 year olds) and Norah got the little sister, newly 6.
Calvin and the boys have been outside riding bikes for the last three weeks straight, with slight pauses for sleeping and watching tv. They had a secret hideout (the main pavilion) and when "the kid who pees on everything" stormed it, they got another secret hideout (the other pavilion). They talk about Harry Potter, and racing, and making spears and bow and arrows, they share popcicles and fishie crackers. The little sisters are sadly being relegated to little sister status at the moment, but that is really ok with me so they stay within sight and earshot at the playground.
It is almost exactly what I was hoping would happen when we moved here, suburbia to the max. It might even be why we decided to build right here. The first month we were here I just couldn't believe the lack of kids running wild out there-- where are all the kids? I understand many of them could be going to child care elsewhere but even in the evenings I was disappointed by the childlessness out back. My kids and the kid who pees on stuff were the only ones outside most of the time, and while I try to be open minded about my kids' friends, I was not thrilled that he was their only companion.
I've read lots of things about kids needing time outside, unstructured, playing together without adult direction, learning playground politics, getting hurt, getting a strong immune system by interacting with germs from time to time, being slightly in danger, building stuff, and sharing popcicles. (Basically.) But of course, we sort of seek out the things we agree with, so those are the kinds of things I read about. I totally understand that every family is different and the kids have different needs, but I am really trying to figure out a way to get more of our neighbors outside (and playing with my kids...ha). As I type this, my kids are watching a movie in the dark on the last day of summer, so just take me with a grain of salt.